Barefoot Hiking – Quietude at 11,000 feet

I’m writing this on the plane at 28,000 feet, watching the Rock Mountains unfold under the frosty wings of my United flight. I got to spend the last few days at Boulder with my wife and I’ve come away with renewed admiration for the wilderness and trails. With the Leadville 100 ultra marathon this coming weekend, I envy and admire the runners that are going to tackle the brutally spectacular out-and-back in the Rocky Mountains. But, back to hiking. This was really my first time barefoot hiking up a trail that was filled with moist pine needles, gushing creeks, amazing vistas at every turn and the constant chirping of crickets along the lush trails. I think I definitely ran out of wow’s during this hike.

Barefoot Hiking

We lucked out yesterday with almost perfect weather as we ventured up to Brainard Lake into the Indian Peaks Wilderness, just a short hour drive from Boulder. This lake is tucked away and a local favorite. At 11,000 feet and surrounded by 13,000 ft peaks, it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve been to. With the smell of fresh pines, blue cloudless skies with a certain crispiness in the air, we hiked over to Blue Lake on a 6 mile out-and-back with a 1,000 foot elevation gain. This wasn’t a race, just a casual hike through the wilderness. I walked with my Luna Sandals for the first mile or so until we got to Mitchell Lake and then decided to try barefoot hiking for the remainder of the time.

I love running trails and enjoy the movement of my body on the trails, wind on my skin, sweat trickling down my forehead, the conscious placement of footfalls as I dance through boulders, rocks and stumps, the aching calves and the lungs desperately gasping for air on steep inclines. But barefoot hiking was a completely new experience. It slowed down my pace so dramatically that I had to breathe deeply multiple times resisting the urge to shred the trails. The footfalls got quieter and softer and I realized that I could no longer zone out during the walk. The sharp rocks commanded my attention and focus in a much more exaggerated way than running with my Luna Sandals. It made me pay attention to the patterns on the rocks, the poisonous yet gorgeous looking mushrooms under the pine needles, the soft grass on meadows filled with wild flowers and the little budding pine cones on the trees. Barefoot hiking across a gushing creek, flowing with fresh snow melt is such nature’s very own foot spa, for sure!

  • Trail Entrance to Blue Lake
    Trail Entrance to Blue Lake

That said, when we got to the Blue Lake, I couldn’t help myself running up the steep incline (can you spot me in the picture?) to the top of a mesa. Felt good to get the heart pumping. 🙂 I’m sad to this leave this place and the airports and planes have a raucous, jarring contrast compared to the quietude of the mountains. I may have left a piece of me behind in these amazing mountains. Not all is lost though. I’m back in the Mt. Shasta wilderness in just a week for the Headwaters Ultra Marathon 50K. I think, I’m finally beginning to understand the lure of running ultra distances longer than 50 miles through rugged wilderness. Maybe, some day.

As John Muir said, I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of the Gods than be thinking of mountains in a church. QOTD.

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